Home > Ravage (Scarred Souls #3)

Ravage (Scarred Souls #3)
Author: Tillie Cole

PROLOGUE

Vladikavkaz,

Republic of North Ossetia–Alania

Russia

House of Abandoned Children

Fifteen years ago …

Three hard raps on the door downstairs startled me from my sleep. I squinted my eyes to look at the clock on the wall. The other boys in the room didn’t move, but that didn’t mean they weren’t awake. We all knew what those hard raps meant—they were coming for pickings.

The Night Wraiths.

My body filled with ice when the long high-pitched creak of the main door’s opening sliced through the expectant silence of the house. Then came the boots. Heavy boots pounding on the old wooden floor.

The rooms were pitch-black, as they always were at three o’clock in the morning. They always came at this time. I knew it was so the residents of the small town didn’t hear or see them coming for us orphans.

Whispering, deep hushed voices seemed to fill every inch of the room; this was the signal that I needed my feet to move. As I pushed the thin blanket back from my bed, my bare feet hit the freezing-cold wood. I froze, not wanting to make a sound. Balling my hands into fists, I took small silent steps toward the back staircase. As I passed the neat rows of small cots, I could hear cries and sniffles from the other boys. They lay paralyzed with fear in the centers of their beds. The stink of urine filled my nostrils, some kids so afraid that they’d instantly wet themselves.

But I kept going. I needed to get to her.

My heart raced even though my movements were slow, until I reached the locked door that separated us boys from the girls. Removing the small pin I’d stored in the secret pocket of my pants, I silently inserted it into the lock. I focused on feeling for the lock to snap, while all the time desperately trying to listen for any sound, any sign that the Noch’ Prizrak—the men known only as Night Wraiths—were heading to this floor.

A bead of sweat formed on my forehead, but I bit my lip to focus on the task. My hand moved slow and steady. With a quick exhale, the lock snapped and the doorknob turned slowly under my hand.

I glanced behind into the darkness, making sure that no one was following me. Sometimes a few of the other boys panicked and tried to follow. But they couldn’t. I could only save two. The rest would have to fight for themselves, in this fucked-up house of hell. The house of pickings for the Wraiths that came at night.

Sensing that no one was behind, I slipped through the open door and quickly locked it. Returning the pin to my secret pocket, I slunk across the landing to the narrow staircase. Creeping carefully down each step, I came to another small landing. Seeing the door that led to her room, I picked the lock and slipped through. The second I entered the girls’ dorm, a wave of loud crying hit me, burning my blood and rolling my stomach. These were the young girls. One of them was my sister: my best friend and my only reason for living.

I carefully stepped out fourteen paces, having memorized this short journey over the years of our imprisonment. I remembered everything. My brain never forgot a single thing. As I reached the fourteenth step, I pushed out my hand and immediately felt the small fingers of Inessa, my baby sister.

I smiled a small smile, fighting back tears as her little fingers shook, while gripping mine so impossibly tight. Wordlessly, I pulled her from the bed and lifted her into my arms. Inessa’s head tucked into the crook between my neck and shoulder, her thin arms wrapping around my neck like a vise. I allowed myself a moment to squeeze her in return. The sound of a door being opened echoed through the hallways, forcing me into action.

I ran.

I ran as fast as my feet could carry us.

As I ran, screams from the dorms down the hall pierced the stillness of the night. Inessa’s breathing grew faster. As I approached the door to the hallway, her cold hands tightened around my neck and she whispered, “Noch’ Prizrak.” The fear lacing her hushed voice almost caused my legs to buckle, but I pushed on through the doorway and into the empty stairwell. This time shouts and screams could be heard from the direction of our secret safe place.

Dread enveloped my body. I rocked on my feet, pure fear taking hold. I tried to think of what to do, where to go, when a crash sounded from the direction of the boys’ dorm.

“Valentin?” Inessa sniffled into my neck. I could feel her whole body trembling. Her heartbeat was racing, its vibration pounding against my bare chest. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying desperately to think of another place to hide. The heavy boots of the Wraiths sounded like thunder, no, worse, a stampede of elephants, coming at us from all sides, slowly caging us in.

Then it hit me—the medical room on the floor above. In seconds my feet were sprinting up two flights of stairs. Inessa never made a single sound the entire time I was running. My thighs burned with the effort, until I came to the old door with a red cross painted on its only glass panel. But the sound of boots increased. The boom boom of footsteps grew closer still. I sweated. My heart raced. This wasn’t going according to plan. The doorknob turned. Just then the loud click hit my ears. It was the boys’ dorm door opening.

Rushing through the medical room door, I shut it tight. Moonlight filtered into the room, showing four small beds. There were no closets to hide in, no hidden doors or cupboards to hide behind or climb in.

Loud voices filled the air. Knowing that the Wraiths were coming our way, I ran to the farthest bed and placed Inessa on the floor. Her hand gripped on to mine so tightly, but I couldn’t stop to comfort her. I had to get us safe.

Dropping to my knees, I pulled Inessa to the floor and crawled under the bed. Inessa followed—she always followed anything I said or did without question—and we shuffled under the small bed. I made for the corner, making myself as small as I could, and wrapped Inessa in my arms, her little body curled tightly against my chest. We stayed still, very still.

We breathed quietly. Inessa cried silent tears, her small body trembling. I kept tight hold, hoping and praying that the Wraiths wouldn’t come our way. That they would pass us by tonight. That they wouldn’t load us onto their trucks, headed to God knows where?

Placing my hand on the back on Inessa’s head, I brought her cheek against my chest and closed my eyes as I laid a kiss to the top of her black hair.

There was silence. A silence so heavy I didn’t dare breathe for fear of it sounding out. Then a small creak outside of the medical room’s door sent white-hot sparks slicing down my spine.

Inessa whimpered against my chest, so I put my finger over her lips, desperate for her to not make a sound.

I watched the floor for any sign of shadows, and my stomach fell when I saw the door open and several boots fill the room. Their voices were low as they talked to one another. They were Georgian, some words in their language unfamiliar. I held Inessa tighter, watching like a hawk as the boots walked around the room, stopping at each bed.

Then on a sharp turn, two sets of boots made their way from the room to the hallway outside. My wide eyes focused on the two pairs of boots left, two pairs of boots that slowly, painstakingly slowly, began approaching this bed.

I held my breath, too scared to even exhale as the boots came to a stop. Tears built in my eyes and I knew this was it.

The Wraiths had found us.

And it all happened so quickly.

In a flash the bed we were hiding under was overturned and the lights were flicked on, blanketing the room in a blinding white light. I flinched as Inessa screamed in my arms, the sudden flare of light blinding her, too.

I blinked, and blinked again, until the faces of the Wraiths came into view. There was a man, a huge dark man, and next to him was a woman. The woman was dressed all in black—as all of the Wraiths did—like a military uniform, her hair tied back in a bun. And her narrowed dark eyes were watching us, mainly focusing on the back of Inessa’s head. I tried to keep my sister close, to keep her face hidden, but as if feeling the woman’s stare, Inessa lifted her head and looked round. And I watched as the female Wraith smiled. A smile spread on her thin lips. Looking up to the man who stood by her side, she nodded her head.

Immediately understanding what that meant, I jumped to my feet, Inessa still in my arms. I ran. I ran forward as hard as I could, but as I got to the door the two guards I thought had left reached out and grabbed me by my hair. I gritted my teeth as pain shot through my head. Then, as I was unable to keep hold, a huge male Wraith ripped Inessa from my arms. Inessa screamed, her little arms stretching out for me. My body filled with red-hot rage; I punched out, my fist hitting the Wraith in the stomach.

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